The Yellow Claw
Part 3 out of 7
Thus did Mr. Soames commence his career of duplicity at the flat of
Henry Leroux; and for some twelve months before the events which so
dramatically interfered with the delightful scheme, he drew his
double salary and performed his perfidious work with great
efficiency and contentment. Mrs. Leroux paid four other visits to
Paris during that time, and always returned in much better spirits,
although pale and somewhat haggard looking. It fell to the lot of
Soames always to meet her at Charing Cross; but never once, by look
or by word, did she proffer, or invite, the slightest exchange of
confidence. She apathetically accepted his aid in conducting this
intrigue as she would have accepted his aid in putting on her
The curious Soames had read right through the telephone directory
from A to Z in quest of East 18642--only to learn that no such
number was published. His ingenuity not being great, he could
think of no means to learn the address of the mysterious Mr. King.
So keenly had he been impressed with the omniscience of that
shadowy being who knew all his past, that he feared to inquire of
the Eastern Exchange. His banking account was growing handsomely,
and, above all things, he dreaded to kill the goose that laid the
Then came the night which shattered all. Having rung up East 18642
and made an appointment with Gianapolis in regard to some letters
for Mrs. Leroux, he had been surprised, on reaching the corner of
Victoria Street, to find that Gianapolis was not there! He glanced
up at the face of Big Ben. Yes--for the first time during their
business acquaintance, Mr. Gianapolis was late!
For close upon twenty minutes, Soames waited, walking slowly up and
down. When, at last, coming from the direction of Westminster, he
saw the familiar spruce figure.
Eagerly he hurried forward to meet the Greek; but Gianapolis--to
the horror and amazement of Soames--affected not to know him! He
stepped aside to avoid the stupefied butler, and passed. But, in
passing, he hissed these words at Soames:--
"Follow to Victoria Street Post Office! Pretend to post letters at
next box to me and put them in my hand!"
He was gone!
Soames, dazed at this new state of affairs, followed him at a
discreet distance. Gianapolis ran up the Post Office steps
briskly, and Soames, immediately afterwards, ascended also--
furtively. Gianapolis was taking out a number of letters from his
Soames walked across to the "Country" box on his right, and
affected to scrutinize the addresses on the envelopes of Mrs.
Gianapolis, on the pretense of posting a country letter, reached
out and snatched the correspondence from Soames' hand. The gaze of
his left eye crookedly sought the face of the butler.
"Go home!" whispered Gianapolis; "be cautious!"
In a pitiable state of mind, Soames walked away from the Post
Office. Gianapolis had hurried off in the direction of Victoria
Station. Something was wrong! Some part of the machine, of the
dimly divined machine whereof he formed a cog, was out of gear.
Since the very nature of this machine--its construction and
purpose, alike--was unknown to Soames, he had no basis upon which
to erect surmises for good or ill.
His timid inquiries into the identity of East 18642 had begun and
terminated with his labored perusal of the telephone book, a
profitless task which had occupied him for the greater part of an
The name, Gianapolis, did not appear at all; whereas there proved
to be some two hundred and ninety Kings. But, oddly, only four of
these were on the Eastern Exchange; one was a veterinary surgeon;
one a boat-builder; and a third a teacher of dancing. The fourth,
an engineer, seemed a "possible" to Soames, although his published
number was not 18642; but a brief--a very brief--conversation,
convinced the butler that this was not his man.
He had been away from the flat for over an hour, and he doubted if
even the lax sense of discipline possessed by Mr. Leroux would
enable that gentleman to overlook this irregularity. Soames had a
key of the outer door, and he built his hopes upon the possibility
that Leroux had not noticed his absence and would not hear his
He opened the door very quietly, but had scarcely set his foot in
the lobby ere the dreadful, unforgettable scene met his gaze.
For more years than he could remember, he had lived in dread of the
law; and, in Luke Soames' philosophy, the words Satan and Detective
were interchangeable. Now, before his eyes, was a palpable,
unmistakable police officer; and on the floor . . .
Just one glimpse he permitted himself--and, in a voice that seemed
to reach him from a vast distance, the detective was addressing
HIM! . . .
Slinking to his room, with his craven heart missing every fourth
beat, and his mind in chaos, Soames sank down upon the bed, locked
his hands together and hugged them, convulsively, between his
It was come! He had overstepped that almost invisible boundary-
line which divides indiscretion from crime. He knew now that the
voice within him, the voice which had warned him against Gianapolis
and against becoming involved in what dimly he had perceived to be
an elaborate scheme, had been, not the voice of cowardice (as he
had supposed) but that of prudence.
And it was too late. The dead woman, he told himself--he had been
unable to see her very clearly--undoubtedly was Mrs. Leroux. What
in God's name had happened! Probably her husband had killed her . . .
which meant? It meant that proofs--PROOFS--were come into his
possession; and who should be involved, entangled in the meshes of
this fallen conspiracy, but himself, Luke Soames!
As must be abundantly evident, Soames was not a criminal of the
daring type; he did not believe in reaching out for anything until
he was well assured that he could, if necessary, draw back his
hand. This last venture, this regrettable venture--this ruinous
venture--had been a mistake. He had entered into it under the
glamour of Gianapolis' personality. Of what use, now, to him was
his swelling bank balance?
But in justice to the mental capacity of Soames, it must be
admitted that he had not entirely overlooked such a possibility as
this; he had simply refrained, for the good of his health, from
Long before, he had observed, with interest, that, should an
emergency arise (such as a fire), a means of egress had been placed
by the kindly architect adjacent to his bedroom window. Thus, his
departure on the night of the murder was not the fruit of a sudden
scheme, but of one well matured.
Closing and locking his bedroom door, Soames threw out upon the bed
the entire contents of his trunk; selected those things which he
considered indispensable, and those which might constitute clues.
He hastily packed his grip, and, with a last glance about the room
and some seconds of breathless listening at the door, he attached
to the handle a long piece of cord, which at some time had been
tied about his trunk, and, gently opening the window, lowered the
grip into the courtyard beneath. The light he had already
extinguished, and with the conviction dwelling in his bosom that in
some way he was become accessory to a murder--that he was a man
shortly to be pursued by the police of the civilized world--he
descended the skeleton lift-shaft, picked up his grip, and passed
out under the archway into the lane at the back of Palace Mansions
and St. Andrew's Mansions.
He did not proceed in the direction which would have brought him
out into the Square, but elected to emerge through the other end.
At exactly the moment that Inspector Dunbar rushed into his vacated
room, Mr. Soames, grip in hand, was mounting to the top of a
southward bound 'bus at the corner of Parliament Street!
He was conscious of a need for reflection. He longed to sit in
some secluded spot in order to think. At present, his brain was a
mere whirligig, and all things about him seemingly danced to the
same tune. Stationary objects were become unstable in the eyes of
Soames, and the solid earth, burst free of its moorings, no longer
afforded him a safe foothold. There was a humming in his ears; and
a mist floated before his eyes. By the time that the motor-'bus
was come to the south side of the bridge, Soames had succeeded in
slowing down his mental roundabout in some degree; and now he began
grasping at the flying ideas which the diminishing violence of his
brain storm enabled him, vaguely, to perceive.
The first fruits of his reflections were bitter. He viewed the
events of the night in truer focus; he saw that by his flight he
had sealed his fate--had voluntarily outlawed himself. It became
frightfully evident to him that he dared not seek to draw from his
bank, that he dared not touch even his modest Post Office account.
With the exception of some twenty-five shillings in his pocket, he
How could he hope to fly the country, or even to hide himself,
He glanced suspiciously about the 'bus; for he perceived that an
old instinct had prompted him to mount one which passed the Oval--a
former point of debarkation when he lived in rooms near Kennington
Park. Someone might recognize him!
Furtively, he scanned his fellow passengers, but perceived no
What should he do--where should he go? It was a desperate
The inspector who had cared to study that furtive, isolated figure,
could not have failed to mark it for that of a hunted man.
At Kennington Gate the 'bus made a halt. Soames glanced at the
clock on the corner. It was close upon one A. M. Where in
heaven's name should he go? What a fool he had been to come to
this district where he was known!
Stay! There was one man in London, surely, who must be almost as
keenly interested in the fate of Luke Soames as Luke Soames himself
. . . Gianapolis!
Soames sprang up and hurried off the 'bus. No public telephone box
would be available at that hour, but dire need spurred his slow
mind and also lent him assurance. He entered the office of the
taxicab depot on the next corner, and, from the man whom he found
in charge, solicited and obtained the favor of using the telephone.
Lifting the receiver, he asked for East 18642.
The seconds that elapsed, now, were as hours of deathly suspense to
the man at the telephone. If the number should be engaged! . . .
If the exchange could get no reply! . . .
"Hullo!" said a nasal voice--"who is it?"
"It is Soames--and I want to speak to Mr. King!"
He lowered his tone as much as possible, almost whispering his own
name. He knew the voice which had answered him; it was the same
that he always heard when ringing up East 18642. But would
Gianapolis come to the telephone? Suddenly--
"Is that Soames?" spoke the sing-song voice of the Greek.
"Where are you?"
"Are they following you?"
"No--I don't think so, at least; what am I to do? Where am I to
"Get to Globe Road--near Stratford Bridge, East, without delay.
But whatever you do, see that you are not followed! Globe Road is
the turning immediately beyond the Railway Station. It is not too
late, perhaps, to get a 'bus or tram, for some part of the way, at
any rate. But even if the last is gone, don't take a cab; walk.
When you get to Globe Road, pass down on the left-hand side, and,
if necessary, right to the end. Make sure you are not followed,
then walk back again. You will receive a signal from an open door.
Come right in. Good-by."
Soames replaced the receiver on the hook, uttering a long-drawn
sigh of relief. The arbiter of his fortunes had not failed him!
"Thank you very much!" he said to the man in charge of the office,
who had been bending over his books and apparently taking not the
slightest interest in the telephone conversation. Soames placed
twopence, the price of the call, on the desk. "Good night."
He hastened out of the gate and across the road. An electric
tramcar which would bear him as far as the Elephant-and-Castle was
on the point of starting from the corner. Grip in hand, Soames
boarded the car and mounted to the top deck. He was in some doubt
respecting his mode of travel from the next point onward, but the
night was fine, even if he had to walk, and his reviving spirits
would cheer him with visions of a golden future!
His money!--That indeed was a bitter draught: the loss of his
hardly earned savings! But he was now established--linked by a
common secret--in partnership with Gianapolis; he was one of that
mysterious, obviously wealthy group which arranged drafts on Paris--
which could afford to pay him some hundreds of pounds per annum
for such a trifling service as juggling the mail!
Mr. King!--If Gianapolis were only the servant, what a magnificent
man of business must be hidden beneath the cognomen, Mr. King! And
he was about to meet that lord of mystery. Fear and curiosity were
oddly blended in the anticipation.
By great good fortune, Soames arrived at the Elephant-and-Castle in
time to catch an eastward bound motor-'bus, a 'bus which would
actually carry him to the end of Globe Road. He took his seat on
top, and with greater composure than he had known since his
dramatic meeting with Gianapolis in Victoria Street, lighted one of
Mr. Leroux's cabanas (with which he invariably kept his case
filled) and settled down to think about the future.
His reflections served apparently to shorten the journey; and
Soames found himself proceeding along Globe Road--a dark and
uninviting highway--almost before he realized that London Bridge
had been traversed. It was now long past one o'clock; and that
part of the east-end showed dreary and deserted. Public houses had
long since ejected their late guests, and even those argumentative
groups, which, after closing-time, linger on the pavements, within
the odor Bacchanalian, were dispersed. The jauntiness was gone,
now, from Soames' manner, and aware of a marked internal
depression, he passed furtively along the pavement with its long
shadowy reaches between the islands of light formed by the street
lamps. From patch to patch he passed, and each successive lamp
that looked down upon him found him more furtive, more bent in his
Not a shop nor a house exhibited any light. Sleeping Globe Road,
East, served to extinguish the last poor spark of courage within
Soames' bosom. He came to the extreme end of the road without
having perceived a beckoning hand, without having detected a sound
to reveal that his advent was observed. In the shadow of a wall he
stopped, resting his grip upon the pavement and looking back upon
No living thing moved from end to end of Globe Road.
Shivering slightly, Soames picked up the bag and began to walk
back. Less than half-way along, an icy chill entered into his
veins, and his nerves quivered like piano wires, for a soft crying
of his name came, eerie, through the silence, and terrified the
"SOAMES! . . . SOAMES!" . . .
Soames stopped dead, breathing very rapidly, and looking about him
right and left. He could hear the muted pulse of sleeping London.
Then, in the dark doorway of the house before which he stood, he
perceived, dimly, a motionless figure. His first sensation was not
of relief, but of fear. The figure raised a beckoning hand.
Soames, conscious that his course was set and that he must navigate
it accordingly, opened the iron gate, passed up the path and
entered the house to which he thus had been summoned. . . .
He found himself surrounded by absolute darkness, and the door was
closed behind him.
"Straight ahead, Soames!" said the familiar voice of Gianapolis out
of the darkness.
Soames, with a gasp of relief, staggered on. A hand rested upon
his shoulder, and he was guided into a room on the right of the
passage. Then an electric lamp was lighted, and he found himself
confronting the Greek.
But Gianapolis was no longer radiant; all the innate evil of the
man shone out through the smirking mask.
"Sit down, Soames!" he directed.
Soames, placing his bag upon the floor, seated himself in a cane
armchair. The room was cheaply furnished as an office, with a
roll-top desk, a revolving chair, and a filing cabinet. On a side-
table stood a typewriter, and about the room were several other
chairs, whilst the floor was covered with cheap linoleum.
Gianapolis sat in the revolving chair, staring at the lowered
blinds of the window, and brushing up the points of his black
With a fine white silk handkerchief Soames gently wiped the
perspiration from his forehead and from the lining of his hat-band.
Gianapolis began abruptly:--
"There has been an--accident" (he continued to brush his mustache,
with increasing rapidity). "Tell me all that took place after you
left the Post Office."
Soames nervously related his painful experiences of the evening,
whilst Gianapolis drilled his mustache to a satanic angle. The
story being concluded:
"Whatever has happened?" groaned Soames; "and what am I to do?"
"What you are to do," replied Gianapolis, "will be arranged, my
dear Soames, by--Mr. King. Where you are to go, is a problem
shortly settled: you are to go nowhere; you are to stay here." . . .
Soames gazed drearily about the room.
"Not exactly here--this is merely the office; but at our
establishment proper in Limehouse." . . .
"Certainly. Although you seem to be unaware of the fact, Soames,
there are some charming resorts in Limehouse; and your duties, for
the present, will confine you to one of them."
"But--but," hesitated Soames, "the police" . . .
"Unless my information is at fault," said Gianapolis, "the police
have no greater chance of paying us a visit, now, than they had
formerly." . . .
"But Mrs. Leroux" . . .
Gianapolis twirled around in the chair, his eyes squinting
"She--she" . . .
"What about Mrs. Leroux?"
"Isn't she dead?"
"Dead! Mrs. Leroux! You are laboring under a strange delusion,
Soames. The lady whom you saw was not Mrs. Leroux."
Soames' brain began to fail him again.
"Then who," he began. . . .
"That doesn't concern you in the least, Soames. But what does
concern you is this: your connection, and my connection, with the
matter cannot possibly be established by the police. The incident
is regrettable, but the emergency was dealt with--in time. It
represents a serious deficit, unfortunately, and your own
usefulness, for the moment, becomes nil; but we shall have to look
after you, I suppose, and hope for better things in the future."
He took up the telephone.
"East 39951," he said, whilst Soames listened, attentively. Then:--
"Is that Kan-Suh Concessions?" he asked. "Yes--good! Tell Said to
bring the car past the end of the road at a quarter-to-two. That's
He hung up the receiver.
"Now, my dear Soames," he said, with a faint return to his old
manner, "you are about to enter upon new duties. I will make your
position clear to you. Whilst you do your work, and keep yourself
to yourself, you are in no danger; but one indiscretion--just one--
apart from what it may mean for others, will mean, for YOU,
immediate arrest as accessory to a murder!"
Soames shuddered, coldly.
"You can rely upon me, Mr. Gianapolis," he protested, "to do
absolutely what you wish--absolutely. I am a ruined man, and I
know it--I know it. My only hope is that you will give me a
chance." . . .
"You shall have every chance, Soames," replied Gianapolis--"every
CAVE OF THE GOLDEN DRAGON
When the car stopped at the end of a short drive, Soames had not
the slightest idea of his whereabouts. The blinds at the window of
the limousine had been lowered during the whole journey, and now he
descended from the step of the car on to the step of a doorway. He
was in some kind of roofed-in courtyard, only illuminated by the
headlamps of the car. Mr. Gianapolis pushed him forward, and, as
the door was closed, he heard the gear of the car reversed; then--
"My grip!" he began, nervously.
"It will be placed in your room, Soames."
The voice of the Greek answered him from the darkness.
Guided by the hand of Gianapolis, he passed on and descended a
flight of stone steps. Ahead of him a light shone out beneath a
door, and, as he stumbled on the steps, the door was thrown
He found himself looking into a long, narrow apartment. . . . He
pulled up short with a smothered, gasping cry.
It was a cavern!--but a cavern the like of which he had never seen,
never imagined. The walls had the appearance of being rough-hewn
from virgin rock--from black rock--from rock black as the rocks of
Shellal--black as the gates of Erebus.
Placed at regular intervals along the frowning walls, to right and
left, were spiral, slender pillars, gilded and gleaming. They
supported an archwork of fancifully carven wood, which curved
gently outward to the center of the ceiling, forming, by
conjunction with a similar, opposite curve, a pointed arch.
In niches of the wall were a number of grotesque Chinese idols.
The floor was jet black and polished like ebony. Several tiger-
skin rugs were strewn about it. But, dominating the strange place,
in the center of the floor stood an ivory pedestal, supporting a
golden dragon of exquisite workmanship; and before it, as before a
shrine, an enormous Chinese vase was placed, of the hue, at its
base, of deepest violet, fading, upward, through all the shades of
rose pink seen in an Egyptian sunset, to a tint more elusive than a
maiden's blush. It contained a mass of exotic poppies of every
shade conceivable, from purple so dark as to seem black, to poppies
of the whiteness of snow.
Just within the door, and immediately in front of Soames, stood a
slim man of about his own height, dressed with great nicety in a
perfectly fitting morning-coat, his well-cut cashmere trousers
falling accurately over glossy boots having gray suede uppers. His
linen was immaculate, and he wore a fine pearl in his black poplin
cravat. Between two yellow fingers smoldered a cigarette.
Soames, unconsciously, clenched his fists: this slim man embodied
the very spirit of the outre. The fantastic surroundings melted
from the ken of Soames, and he seemed to stand in a shadow-world,
alone with an incarnate shadow.
For this was a Chinaman! His jet black lusterless hair was not
shaven in the national manner, but worn long, and brushed back from
his slanting brow with no parting, so that it fell about his white
collar behind, lankly. He wore gold-rimmed spectacles, which
magnified his oblique eyes and lent him a terrifying beetle-like
appearance. His mephistophelean eyebrows were raised
interrogatively, and he was smiling so as to exhibit a row of
uneven yellow teeth.
Soames, his amazement giving place to reasonless terror, fell back
a step--into the arms of Gianapolis.
"This is our friend from Palace Mansions," said the Greek. He
squeezed Soames' arm, reassuringly. "Your new principal, Soames,
Mr. Ho-Pin, from whom you will take your instructions."
"I have these instructions for Mr. Soames," said Ho-Pin, in a
metallic, monotonous voice. (He gave to r half the value of w,
with a hint of the presence of l.) 'He will wremain here as valet
until the search fowr him becomes less wrigowrous."
Soames, scarce believing that he was awake, made no reply. He
found himself unable to meet the glittering eyes of the Chinaman;
he glanced furtively about the room, prepared at any moment to wake
up from what seemed to him an absurd, a ghostly dream.
"Said will change his appeawrance," continued Ho-Pin, smoothly, "so
that he will not wreadily be wrecognized. Said will come now."
Ho-Pin clapped his hands three times.
The door at the end of the room immediately opened, and a thick-set
man of a pronounced Arabian type, entered. He wore a chauffeur's
livery of dark blue; and Soames recognized him for the man who had
driven the car.
"Said," said Ho-Pin very deliberately, turning to face the new
arrival, "ahu hina--Lucas Effendi--Mr. Lucas. Waddi el--shenta ila
beta oda. Fehimt?"
Said bowed his head.
"Fahim, effendi," he muttered rapidly.
"Ma fihsh." . . .
Again Said bowed his head, then, glancing at Soames:--
"Ta'ala wayyaya!" he said.
Soames, looking helplessly at Gianapolis--who merely pointed to the
door--followed Said from the room.
He was conducted along a wide passage, thickly carpeted and having
its walls covered with a kind of matting kept in place by strips of
bamboo. Its roof was similarly concealed. A door near to the end,
and on the right, proved to open into a square room quite simply
furnished in the manner of a bed-sitting room. A little bathroom
opened out of it in one corner. The walls were distempered white,
and there was no window. Light was furnished by an electric lamp,
hanging from the center of the ceiling.
Soames, glancing at his bag, which Said had just placed beside the
white-enameled bedstead, turned to his impassive guide.
"This is a funny go!" he began, with forced geniality. "Am I to
"Ma'lesh!" muttered Said--"ma'lesh!"
He indicated, by gestures, that Soames should remove his collar; he
was markedly unemotional. He crossed to the bathroom, and could be
heard filling the hand-basin with water.
"Kursi!" he called from within.
Soames, seriously doubting his own sanity, and so obsessed with a
sense of the unreal that his senses were benumbed, began to take
off his collar; he could not feel the contact of his fingers
with his neck in the act. Collarless, he entered the little
bathroom. . . .
"Kursi!" repeated Said; then: "Ah! ana nesit! ma'lesh!"
Said--whilst Soames, docile in his stupor, watched him--went back,
picked up the solitary cane chair which the apartment boasted, and
brought it into the bathroom. Soames perceived that he was to be
treated to something in the nature of a shampoo; for Said had
ranged a number of bottles, a cake of soap, and several towels,
along a shelf over the bath.
In a curious state of passivity, Soames submitted to the operation.
His hair was vigorously toweled, then fanned in the most approved
fashion; but this was no more than the beginning of the operation.
As he leaned back in the chair:
"Am I dreaming?" he said aloud. "What's all this about?"
"Uskut!" muttered Said--"Uskut!"
Soames, at no time an aggressive character, resigned himself to the
Some lotion, which tingled slightly upon the scalp, was next
applied by Said from a long-necked bottle. Then, fresh water
having been poured into the basin, a dark purple liquid was added,
and Soames' head dipped therein by the operating Eastern. This
time no rubbing followed, but after some minutes of vigorous
fanning, he was thrust back into the chair, and a dry towel tucked
firmly into his collar-band. He anticipated that he was about to
be shaved, and in this was not disappointed.
Said, filling a shaving-mug from the hot-water tap, lathered
Soames' chin and the abbreviated whiskers upon which he had prided
himself. Then the razor was skilfully handled, and Soames' face
shaved until his chin was as smooth as satin.
Next, a dark brown solution was rubbed over the skin, and even upon
his forehead and right into the roots of the hair; upon his throat,
his ears, and the back of his neck. He was now past the putting of
questions or the raising of protest; he was as clay in the hands of
the silent Oriental. Having fanned his wet face again for some
time, Said, breaking the long silence, muttered:
Soames stared. Said indicated, by pantomime, that he desired him
to close his eyes, and Soames obeyed mechanically. Thereupon the
Oriental busied himself with the ex-butler's not very abundant
lashes for five minutes or more. Then the busy fingers were at
work with his inadequate eyebrows: finally:--
"Khalas!" muttered Said, tapping him on the shoulder.
Soames wearily opened his eyes, wondering if his strange martyrdom
were nearly at its end. He discovered his hair to be still rather
damp, but, since it was sparse, it was rapidly drying. His eyes
Removing all trace of his operations, Said, with no word of
farewell, took up his towels, bottles and other paraphernalia and
Soames watched the retreating figure crossing the outer room, but
did not rise from the chair until the door had closed behind Said.
Then, feeling strangely like a man who has drunk too heavily, he
stood up and walked into the bedroom. There was a small shaving-
glass upon the chest-of-drawers, and to this he advanced, filled
with the wildest apprehensions.
One glance he ventured, and started back with a groan.
His apprehensions had fallen short of the reality. With one hand
clutching the bedrail, he stood there swaying from side to side,
and striving to screw up his courage to the point whereat he might
venture upon a second glance in the mirror. At last he succeeded,
looking long and pitifully.
"Oh, Lord!" he groaned, "what a guy!"
Beyond doubt he was strangely changed. By nature, Luke Soames had
hair of a sandy color; now it was of so dark a brown as to seem
black in the lamplight. His thin eyebrows and scanty lashes were
naturally almost colorless; but they were become those of a
pronounced brunette. He was of pale complexion, but to-night had
the face of a mulatto, or of one long in tropical regions. In
short, he was another man--a man whom he detested at first sight!
This was the price, or perhaps only part of the price, of his
indiscretion. Mr. Soames was become Mr. Lucas. Clutching the top
of the chest-of-drawers with both hands, he glared at his own
In that pose, he was interrupted. Said, silently opening the door
behind him, muttered:
Soames whirled around in a sudden panic, his heart leaping madly.
The immobile brown face peered in at the door.
"Ta'ala wayyaya!" repeated Said, his face expressionless as a mask.
He pointed along the corridor. "Ho-Pin Effendi!" he explained.
Soames, raising his hands to his collarless neck, made a swallowing
noise, and would have spoken; but:
"Ta'ala wayyaya!" reiterated the Oriental.
Soames hesitated no more. Reentering the corridor, with its straw-
matting walls, he made a curious discovery. Away to the left it
terminated in a blank, matting-covered wall. There was no
indication of the door by which he had entered it. Glancing
hurriedly to the right, he failed also to perceive any door there.
The bespectacled Ho-Pin stood halfway along the passage, awaiting
him. Following Said in that direction, Soames was greeted with the
"Mr. King will see you."
The words taught Soames that his capacity for emotion was by no
means exhausted. His endless conjectures respecting the mysterious
Mr. King were at last to be replaced by facts; he was to see him,
to speak with him. He knew now that it was a fearful privilege
which gladly he would have denied himself.
Ho-Pin opened a door almost immediately behind him, a door the
existence of which had not hitherto been evident to Soames.
Beyond, was a dark passage.
"You will follow me, closely," said Ho-Pin with one of his piercing
Soames, finding his legs none too steady, entered the passage
behind Ho-Pin. As he did so, the door was closed by Said, and he
found himself in absolute darkness.
"Keep close behind me," directed the metallic voice.
Soames could not see the speaker, since no ray of light penetrated
into the passage. He stretched out a groping hand, and, although
he was conscious of an odd revulsion, touched the shoulder of the
man in front of him and maintained that unpleasant contact whilst
they walked on and on through apparently endless passages,
extensive as a catacomb. Many corners they turned; they turned to
the right, they turned to the left. Soames was hopelessly
bewildered. Then, suddenly, Ho-Pin stopped.
"Stand still," he said.
Soames became vaguely aware that a door was being closed somewhere
near to him. A lamp lighted up directly over his head . . . he
found himself in a small library!
Its four walls were covered with book-shelves from floor to
ceiling, and the shelves were packed to overflowing with books in
most unusual and bizarre bindings. A red carpet was on the floor
and a red-shaded lamp hung from the ceiling, which was
conventionally white-washed. Although there was no fireplace, the
room was immoderately hot, and heavy with the perfume of roses. On
three little tables were great bowls filled with roses, and there
were other bowls containing roses in gaps between the books on the
A tall screen of beautifully carved sandalwood masked one corner of
the room, but beyond it protruded the end of a heavy writing-table
upon which lay some loose papers, and, standing amid them, an
enormous silver rose-bowl, brimming with sulphur-colored blooms.
Soames, obeying a primary instinct, turned, as the light leaped
into being, to seek the door by which he had entered. As he did
so, the former doubts of his own sanity returned with renewed
The book-lined wall behind him was unbroken by any opening.
Slowly, as a man awaking from a stupor, Soames gazed around the
It contained no door.
He rested his hand upon one of the shelves and closed his eyes.
Beyond doubt he was going mad! The tragic events of that night had
proved too much for him; he had never disguised from himself the
fact that his mental capacity was not of the greatest. He was
assured, now, that his brain had lost its balance shortly after his
flight from Palace Mansions, and that the events of the past two
hours had been phantasmal. He would presently return to sanity
(or, blasphemously, he dared to petition heaven that he would) and
find himself . . . ? Perhaps in the hands of the police!
"Oh, God!" he groaned--"Oh, God!"
He opened his eyes . . .
A woman stood before the sandalwood screen! She had the pallidly
dusky skin of a Eurasian, but, by virtue of nature or artifice, her
cheeks wore a peachlike bloom. Her features were flawless in their
chiseling, save for the slightly distended nostrils, and her black
eyes were magnificent.
She was divinely petite, slender and girlish; but there was that in
the lines of her figure, so seductively defined by her clinging
Chinese dress, in the poise of her small head, with the blush rose
nestling amid the black hair--above all in the smile of her full
red lips--which discounted the youth of her body; which whispered
"Mine is a soul old in strange sins--a soul for whom dead
Alexandria had no secrets, that learnt nothing of Athenean Thais
and might have tutored Messalina" . . .
In her fanciful robe of old gold, with her tiny feet shod in
ridiculously small, gilt slippers, she stood by the screen watching
the stupefied man--an exquisite, fragrantly youthful casket of
ancient, unnameable evils.
"Good evening, Soames!" she said, stumbling quaintly with her
English, but speaking in a voice musical as a silver bell. "You
will here be known as Lucas. Mr. King he wishing me to say that
you to receive two pounds, at each week." . . .
Soames, glassy-eyed, stood watching her. A horror, the horror of
insanity, had descended upon him--a clammy, rose-scented mantle.
The room, the incredible, book-lined room, was a red blur,
surrounding the black, taunting eyes of the Eurasian. Everything
was out of focus; past, present, and future were merged into a red,
rose-haunted nothingness . . .
"You will attend to Block A," resumed the girl, pointing at him
with a little fan. "You will also attend to the gentlemen." . . .
She laughed softly, revealing tiny white teeth; then paused, head
tilted coquettishly, and appeared to be listening to someone's
conversation--to the words of some person seated behind the screen.
This fact broke in upon Soames' disordered mind and confirmed him
in his opinion that he was a man demented. For only one slight
sound broke the silence of the room. The red carpet below the
little tables was littered with rose petals, and, in the super-
heated atmosphere, other petals kept falling--softly, with a gentle
rustling. Just that sound there was . . . and no other. Then:
"Mr. King he wishing to point out to you," said the girl, "that he
hold receipts of you, which bind you to him. So you will be free
man, and have liberty to go out sometimes for your own business.
Mr. King he wishing to hear you say you thinking to agree with the
conditions and be satisfied."
She ceased speaking, but continued to smile; and so complete was
the stillness, that Soames, whose sense of hearing had become
nervously stimulated, heard a solitary rose petal fall upon the
corner of the writing-table.
"I . . . agree," he whispered huskily; "and . . . I am . . .
He looked at the carven screen as a lost soul might look at the
gate of Hades; he felt now that if a sound should come from beyond
it he would shriek out, he would stop up his ears; that if the
figure of the Unseen should become visible, he must die at the
first glimpse of it.
The little brown girl was repeating the uncanny business of
listening to that voice of silence; and Soames knew that he could
not sustain his part in this eerie comedy for another half-minute
without breaking out into hysterical laughter. Then:
"Mr. King he releasing you for to-night," announced the silver bell
The light went out.
Soames uttered a groan of terror, followed by a short, bubbling
laugh, but was seized firmly by the arm and led on into the
blackness--on through the solid, book-laden walls, presumably; and
on--on--on, along those interminable passages by which he had come.
Here the air was cooler, and the odor of roses no longer
perceptible, no longer stifling him, no longer assailing his
nostrils, not as an odor of sweetness, but as a perfume utterly
damnable and unholy.
With his knees trembling at every step, he marched on, firmly
supported by his unseen companion.
"Stop!" directed a metallic, guttural voice.
Soames pulled up, and leaned weakly against the wall. He heard the
clap of hands close behind him; and a door opened within twelve
inches of the spot whereat he stood.
He tottered out into the matting-lined corridor from which he had
started upon that nightmare journey; Ho-Pin appeared at his elbow,
but no door appeared behind Ho-Pin!
"This is your wroom," said the Chinaman, revealing his yellow teeth
in a mirthless smile.
He walked across the corridor, threw open a door--a real, palpable
door . . . and there was Soames' little white room!
Soames staggered across, for it seemed a veritable haven of refuge--
entered, and dropped upon the bed. He seemed to see the rose-
petals fall--fall--falling in that red room in the labyrinth--the
room that had no door; he seemed to see the laughing eyes of the
"Good night!" came the metallic voice of Ho-Pin.
The light in the corridor went out.
The newly-created Mr. Lucas entered upon a sort of cave-man
existence in this fantastic abode where night was day and day was
night; where the sun never shone.
He was awakened on the first morning of his sojourn in the
establishment of Ho-Pin by the loud ringing of an electric bell
immediately beside his bed. He sprang upright with a catching of
the breath, peering about him at the unfamiliar surroundings and
wondering, in the hazy manner of a sleeper newly awakened, where he
was, and how come there. He was fully dressed, and his strapped-up
grip lay beside him on the floor; for he had not dared to remove
his clothes, had not dared to seek slumber after that terrifying
interview with Mr. King. But outraged nature had prevailed, and
sleep had come unbeckoned, unbidden.
The electric light was still burning in the room, as he had left
it, and as he sat up, looking about him, a purring whistle drew his
attention to a speaking-tube which protruded below the bell.
Soames rolled from the bed, head throbbing, and an acrid taste in
his mouth, and spoke into the tube:
"You will pwrepare for youwr duties," came the metallic gutturals
of Ho-Pin. "Bwreakfast will be bwrought to you in a quawrter-of-
He made no reply, but stood looking about him dully. It had not
been a dream, then, nor was he mad. It was a horrible reality;
here, in London, in modern, civilized London, he was actually
buried in some incredible catacomb; somewhere near to him, very
near to him, was the cave of the golden dragon, and, also adjacent--
terrifying thought--was the doorless library, the rose-scented
haunt where the beautiful Eurasian spoke, oracularly, the responses
of Mr. King!
Soames could not understand it all; he felt that such things could
not be; that there must exist an explanation of those seeming
impossibilities other than that they actually existed. But the
instructions were veritable enough, and would not be denied.
Rapidly he began to unpack his grip. His watch had stopped, since
he had neglected to wind it, and he hurried with his toilet,
fearful of incurring the anger of Ho-Pin--of Ho-Pin, the
He observed, with passive interest, that the operation of shaving
did not appreciably lighten the stain upon his skin, and, by the
time that he was shaved, he had begun to know the dark-haired,
yellow-faced man grimacing in the mirror for himself; but he was
far from being reconciled to his new appearance.
Said peeped in at the door. He no longer wore his chauffeur's
livery, but was arrayed in a white linen robe, red-sashed, and wore
loose, red slippers; a tarboosh perched upon his shaven skull.
Pushing the door widely open, he entered with a tray upon which was
spread a substantial breakfast.
"Hurryup!" he muttered, as one word; wherewith he departed again.
Soames seated himself at the little table upon which the tray
rested, and endeavored to eat. His usual appetite had departed
with his identity; Mr. Lucas was a poor, twitching being of raw
nerves and internal qualms. He emptied the coffee-pot, however,
and smoked a cigarette which he found in his case.
"Ta'ala!" he directed.
Soames having learnt that that term was evidently intended as an
invitation to follow Said, rose and followed, dumbly.
He was conducted along the matting-lined corridor to the left; and
now, where formerly he had seen a blank wall, he saw an open door!
Passing this, he discovered himself in the cave of the golden
dragon. Ho-Pin, dressed in a perfectly fitting morning coat and
its usual accompaniments, received him with a mirthless smile.
"Good mowrning!" he said; "I twrust your bwreakfast was
"Quite, sir," replied Soames, mechanically, and as he might have
replied to Mr. Leroux.
"Said will show you to a wroom," continued Ho-Pin, "where you will
find a gentleman awaiting you. You will valet him and perfowrm any
other services which he may wrequire of you. When he departs, you
will clean the wroom and adjoining bath-wroom, and put it into
thowrough order for an incoming tenant. In short, your duties in
this wrespect will be identical to those which formerly you
perfowrmed at sea. There is one important diffewrence: your name
is Lucas, and you will answer no questions."
The metallic voice seemed to reach Soames' comprehension from some
place other than the room of the golden dragon--from a great
distance, or as though he were fastened up in a box and were being
addressed by someone outside it.
"Yes, sir," he replied.
Said opened the yellow door upon the right of the room, and Soames
followed him into another of the matting-lined corridors, this one
running right and left and parallel with the wall of the apartment
which he had just quitted. Six doors opened out of this corridor;
four of them upon the side opposite to that by which he had
entered, and one at either end.
These doors were not readily to be detected; and the wall, at first
glance, presented an unbroken appearance. But from experience, he
had learned that where the strips of bamboo which overlay the straw
matting formed a rectangular panel, there was a door, and by the
light of the electric lamp hung in the center of the corridor, he
counted six of these.
Said, selecting a key from a bunch which he carried, opened one of
the doors, held it ajar for Soames to enter, and permitted it to
reclose behind him.
Soames entered nervously. He found himself in a room identical in
size with his own private apartment; a bathroom, etc., opened out
of it in one corner after the same fashion. But there similarity
The bed in this apartment was constructed more on the lines of a
modern steamer bunk; that is, it was surrounded by a rail, and was
raised no more than a foot from the floor. The latter was covered
with a rich carpet, worked in many colors, and the wall was hung
with such paper as Soames had never seen hitherto in his life. The
scheme of this mural decoration was distinctly Chinese, and
consisted in an intricate design of human and animal figures,
bewilderingly mingled; its coloring was brilliant, and the scheme
extended, unbroken, over the entire ceiling. Cushions, most
fancifully embroidered, were strewn about the floor, and the bed
coverlet was a piece of heavy Chinese tapestry. A lamp, shaded
with silk of a dull purple, swung in the center of the apartment,
and an ebony table, inlaid with ivory, stood on one side of the
bed; on the other was a cushioned armchair figured with the
eternal, chaotic Chinese design, and being littered, at the moment,
with the garments of the man in the bed. The air of the room was
disgusting, unbreathable; it caught Soames by the throat and
sickened him. It was laden with some kind of fumes, entirely
unfamiliar to his nostrils. A dainty Chinese tea-service stood
upon the ebony table.
For fully thirty seconds Soames, with his back to the door, gazed
at the man in the bed, and fought down the nausea which the air of
the place had induced in him.
This sleeper was a man of middle age, thin to emaciation and having
lank, dark hair. His face was ghastly white, and he lay with his
head thrown back and with his arms hanging out upon either side of
the bunk, so that his listless hands rested upon the carpet. It
was a tragic face; a high, intellectual brow and finely chiseled
features; but it presented an indescribable aspect of decay; it was
as the face of some classic statue which has long lain buried in
Soames shook himself into activity, and ventured to approach the
bed. He moistened his dry lips and spoke:
"Good morning, sir"--the words sounded wildly, fantastically out of
place. "Shall I prepare your bath?"
The sleeper showed no signs of awakening.
Soames forced himself to touch one of the thrown-back shoulders.
He shook it gently.
The man on the bed raised his arms and dropped them back again into
their original position, without opening his eyes.
"They . . . are hiding," he murmured thickly . . . "in the . . .
orange grove. . . . If the felucca sails . . . closer . . . they
will" . . .
Soames, finding something very horrifying in the broken words,
shook the sleeper more urgently.
"Wake up, sir!" he cried; "I am going to prepare your bath."
"Don't let them . . . escape," murmured the man, slowly opening his
eyes--"I have not" . . .
He struggled upright, glaring madly at the intruder. His light
gray eyes had a glassiness as of long sickness, and his pupils,
which were unnaturally dilated, began rapidly to contract; became
almost invisible. Then they expanded again--and again contracted.
"Who--the deuce are you?" he murmured, passing his hand across his
"My name is--Lucas, sir," said Soames, conscious that if he
remained much longer in the place he should be physically sick.
"At your service--shall I prepare the bath?"
"The bath?" said the man, sitting up more straightly--"certainly,
yes--of course" . . .
He looked at Soames, with a light of growing sanity creeping into
his eyes; a faint flush tinged the pallid face, and his loose mouth
"Then, Said," he began, looking Soames up and down . . . "let me
see, whom did you say you were?"
"Lucas, sir--at your service."
"Ah," muttered the man, lowering his eyes in unmistakable shame--
"yes, yes, of course. You are new here?"
"Yes, sir. Shall I prepare your bath?"
"Yes, please. This is Wednesday morning?"
"Wednesday morning, sir; yes."
"Of course--it is Wednesday. You said your name was?"
"Lucas, sir," reiterated Soames, and, crossing the fantastic
apartment, he entered the bathroom beyond.
This contained the most modern appointments and was on an
altogether more luxurious scale than that attached to his own
quarters. He noted, without drawing any deduction from the
circumstance, that the fittings were of American manufacture.
Here, as in the outer room, there was no window; an electric light
hung from the center of the ceiling. Soames busied himself in
filling the bath, and laying out the towels upon the rack.
"Fairly warm, sir?" he asked.
"Not too warm, thank you," replied the other, now stumbling out of
bed and falling into the armchair--"not too warm."
"If you will take your bath, sir," said Soames, returning to the
outer room, "I will brush your clothes and be ready to shave you."
"Yes, yes," said the man, rubbing his hands over his face wearily.
"You are new here?"
Soames, who was becoming used to answering this question, answered
it once more without irritation.
"Yes, sir, will you take your bath now? It is nearly full, I
The man stood up unsteadily and passed into the bathroom, closing
the door behind him. Soames, seeking to forget his surroundings,
took out from a small hand-bag which he found beneath the bed, a
razor-case and a shaving stick. The clothes-brush he had
discovered in the bathroom; and now he set to work to brush the
creased garments stacked in the armchair. He noted that they were
of excellent make, and that the linen was of the highest quality.
He was thus employed when the outer door silently opened and the
face of Said looked in.
"Gazm," said the Oriental; and he placed inside, upon the carpet, a
pair of highly polished boots.
The door was reclosed.
Soames had all the garments in readiness by the time that the man
emerged from the bathroom, looking slightly less ill, and not quite
so pallid. He wore a yellow silk kimono; and, with greater
composure than he had yet revealed, he seated himself in the
armchair that Soames might shave him.
This operation Soames accomplished, and the subject, having
partially dressed, returned to the bathroom to brush his hair.
When his toilet was practically completed:
"Shall I pack the rest of the things in the bag, sir?" asked
The man nodded affirmatively.
Five minutes later he was ready to depart, and stood before the ex-
butler a well-dressed, intellectual, but very debauched-looking
gentleman. Being evidently well acquainted with the regime of the
establishment, he pressed an electric bell beside the door,
presented Soames with half-a-sovereign, and, as Said reappeared,
took his departure, leaving Soames more reconciled to his lot than
he could ever have supposed possible.
The task of cleaning the room was now commenced by Soames. Said
returned, bringing him the necessary utensils; and for fifteen
minutes or so he busied himself between the outer apartment and the
bathroom. During this time he found leisure to study the
extraordinary mural decorations; and, as he looked at them, he
learned that they possessed a singular property.
If one gazed continuously at any portion of the wall, the
intertwined figures thereon took shape--nay, took life; the
intricate, elaborate design ceased to be a design, and became a
procession, a saturnalia; became a sinister comedy, which, when
first visualized, shocked Soames immoderately. The horrors
presented by these devices of evil cunning, crowding the walls,
appalled the narrow mind of the beholder, revolted him in an even
greater degree than they must have revolted a man of broader and
cleaner mind. He became conscious of a quality of evil which
pervaded the room; the entire place seemed to lie beneath a spell,
beneath the spell of an invisible, immeasurably wicked
His reflections began to terrify him, and he hastened to complete
his duties. The stench of the place was sickening him anew, and
when at last Said opened the door, Soames came out as a man
escaping from some imminent harm.
"Di," muttered Said.
He pointed to the opened door of a second room, identical in every
respect with the first; and Soames started back with a smothered
groan. Had his education been classical he might have likened
himself to Hercules laboring for Augeus; but his mind tending
scripturally, he wondered if he had sold his soul to Satan in the
person of the invisible Mr. King!
Soames' character was of a pliable sort, and ere many days had
passed he had grown accustomed to this unnatural existence among
the living corpses in the catacombs of Ho-Pin.
He rarely saw Ho-Pin, and desired not to see him at all; as for Mr.
King, he even endeavored to banish from his memory the name of that
shadowy being. The memory of the Eurasian he could not banish, and
was ever listening for the silvery voice, but in vain. He had no
particular duties, apart from the care of the six rooms known as
Block A, and situated in the corridor to the left of the cave of
the golden dragon; this, and the valeting of departing occupants.
But the hours at which he was called upon to perform these duties
varied very greatly. Sometimes he would attend to four human
wrecks in the same morning; whilst, perhaps on the following day,
he would not be called upon to officiate until late in the evening.
One fact early became evident to him. There was a ceaseless stream
of these living dead men pouring into the catacombs of Ho-Pin,
coming he knew not whence, and issuing forth again, he knew not
Twice in the first week of his new and strange service he
recognized the occupants of the rooms as men whom he had seen in
the upper world. On entering the room of one of these (at ten
o'clock at night) he almost cried out in his surprise; for the
limp, sallow-faced creature extended upon the bed before him was
none other than Sir Brian Malpas--the brilliant politician whom his
leaders had earmarked for office in the next Cabinet!
As Soames stood contemplating him stretched there in his stupor, he
found it hard to credit the fact that this was the same man whom
political rivals feared for his hard brilliance, whom society
courted, and whose engagement to the daughter of a peer had been
announced only a few months before.
Throughout this time, Soames had made no attempt to seek the light
of day: he had not seen a newspaper; he knew nothing of the hue and
cry raised throughout England, of the hunt for the murderer of Mrs.
Vernon. He suffered principally from lack of companionship. The
only human being with whom he ever came in contact was Said, the
Egyptian; and Said, at best, was uncommunicative. A man of very
limited intellect, Luke Soames had been at a loss for many days to
reconcile Block A and its temporary occupants with any
comprehensible scheme of things. Whereas some of the rooms would
be laden with nauseating fumes, others would be free of these; the
occupants, again, exhibited various symptoms.
That he was a servant of an opium-den de luxe did not for some time
become apparent to him; then, when first the theory presented
itself, he was staggered by a discovery so momentous.
But it satisfied his mind only partially. Some men whom he valeted
might have been doped with opium, certainly, but all did not
exhibit those indications which, from hearsay, he associated with
the resin of the white poppy.
Knowing nothing of the numerous and exotic vices which have sprung
from the soil of the Orient, he was at a loss for a full
explanation of the facts as he saw them.
Finding himself unmolested, and noting, in the privacy of his own
apartment, how handsomely his tips were accumulating, Soames was
rapidly becoming reconciled to his underground existence, more
especially as it spelt safety to a man wanted by the police. His
duties thus far had never taken him beyond the corridor known as
Block A; what might lie on the other side of the cave of the golden
dragon he knew not. He never saw any of the habitues arrive, or
actually leave; he did not know whether the staff of the place
consisted of himself, Said, Ho-Pin, the Eurasian girl--and . . .
the other, or if there were more servants of this unseen master.
But never a day passed by that the clearance of at least one
apartment did not fall to his lot, and never an occupant quitted
those cells without placing a golden gratuity in the valet's palm.
His appetite returned, and he slept soundly enough in his clean
white bedroom, content to lose the upper world, temporarily, and to
become a dweller in the catacombs--where tips were large and
plentiful. His was the mind of a domestic animal, neither learning
from the past nor questioning the future; but dwelling only in the
No other type of European, however lowly, could have supported
existence in such a place.
Thus the days passed, and the nights passed, the one merged
imperceptibly in the other. At the end of the first week, two
sovereigns appeared upon the breakfast tray which Said brought to
Soames' room; and, some little time later, Said reappeared with his
bottles and paraphernalia to renew the ex-butler's make-up. As he
was leaving the room:
"Ahu hina--G'nap'lis effendi!" he muttered, and went out as Mr.
At sight of the Greek, Soames realized, in one emotional moment,
how really lonely he had been and how in his inmost heart he longed
for a sight of the sun, for a breath of unpolluted air, for a
glimpse of gray, homely London.
All the old radiance had returned to Gianapolis; his eyes were
crossed in an amiable smile.
"My dear Soames!" he cried, greeting the really delighted man.
"How well your new complexion suits you! Sit down, Soames, sit
down, and let us talk."
Soames placed a chair for Gianapolis, and seated himself upon the
bed, twirling his thumbs in the manner which was his when under the
influence of excitement.
"Now, Soames," continued Gianapolis--"I mean Lucas!--my
anticipations, which I mentioned to you on the night of--the
accident . . . you remember?"
"Yes," said Soames rapidly, "yes."
"Well, they have been realized. Our establishment, here, continues
to flourish as of yore. Nothing has come to light in the press
calculated to prejudice us in the eyes of our patrons, and although
your own name, Soames" . . .
Soames started and clutched at the bedcover.
"Although your own name has been freely mentioned on all sides, it
is not generally accepted that you perpetrated the deed."
Soames discovered his hair to be bristling; his skin tingled with a
"That I," he began dryly, paused and swallowed--"that I
perpetrated. . . . Has it been" . . .
"It has been hinted at by one or two Fleet Street theorists--yes,
Soames! But the post-mortem examination of--the victim, revealed
the fact that she was addicted to drugs" . . .
"Opium?" asked Soames, eagerly.
"What an observant mind you have, Soames!" he said. "So you have
perceived that these groves are sacred to our Lady of the Poppies?
Well, in part that is true. Here, under the auspices of Mr. Ho-
Pin, fretful society seeks the solace of the brass pipe; yes,
Soames, that is true. Have you ever tried opium?"
"Never!" declared Soames, with emphasis, "never!"
"Well, it is a delight in store for you! But the reason of our
existence as an institution, Soames, is not far to seek. Once the
joys of Chandu become perceptible to the neophyte, a great need is
felt--a crying need. One may drink opium or inject morphine;
these, and other crude measures, may satisfy temporarily, but if
one would enjoy the delights of that fairyland, of that enchanted
realm which bountiful nature has concealed in the heart of the
poppy, one must retire from the ken of goths and vandals who do not
appreciate such exquisite delights; one must dedicate, not an hour
snatched from grasping society, but successive days and nights to
the goddess" . . .
Soames, barely understanding this discourse, listened eagerly to
every word of it, whilst Gianapolis, waxing eloquent upon his
strange thesis, seemed to be addressing, not his solitary auditor,
but an invisible concourse.
"In common with the lesser deities," he continued, "our Lady of the
Poppies is exacting. After a protracted sojourn at her shrine, so
keen are the delights which she opens up to her worshipers, that a
period of lassitude, of exhaustion, inevitably ensues. This
precludes the proper worship of the goddess in the home, and
necessitates--I say NECESSITATES the presence, in such a capital as
London, of a suitable Temple. You have the honor, Soames, to be a
minor priest of that Temple!"
Soames brushed his dyed hair with his fingers and endeavored to
"A branch establishment--merely a sacred caravanserai where
votaries might repose ere reentering the ruder world," continued
Gianapolis--"has unfortunately been raided by the police!"
With that word, POLICE, he seemed to come to earth again.
"Our arrangements, I am happy to say, were such that not one of the
staff was found on the premises and no visible link existed between
that establishment and this. But now let us talk about yourself.
You may safely take an evening off, I think" . . .
He scrutinized Soames attentively.
"You will be discreet as a matter of course, and I should not
recommend your visiting any of your former haunts. I make this
proposal, of course, with the full sanction of Mr. King."
The muscles of Soames' jaw tightened at sound of the name, and he
avoided the gaze of the crossed eyes.
"And the real purpose of my visit here this morning is to acquaint
you with the little contrivance by which we ensure our privacy
here. Once you are acquainted with it, you can take the air every
evening at suitable hours, on application to Mr. Ho-Pin."
Soames coughed dryly.
"Very good," he said in a strained voice; "I am glad of that."
"I knew you would be glad, Soames," declared the smiling
Gianapolis; "and now, if you will step this way, I will show you
the door by which you must come and go." He stood up, then bent
confidentially to Soames' ear. "Mr. King, very wisely," he
whispered, "has retained you on the premises hitherto, because some
doubt, some little doubt, remained respecting the information which
had come into the possession of the police."
Again that ominous word! But ere Soames had time to reflect,
Gianapolis led the way out of the room and along the matting-lined
corridor into the apartment of the golden dragon. Soames observed,
with a nervous tremor, that Mr. Ho-Pin sat upon one of the lounges,
smoking a cigarette, and arrayed in his usual faultless manner. He
did not attempt to rise, however, as the pair entered, but merely
nodded to Gianapolis and smiled mirthlessly at Soames.
They quitted the room by the door opening on the stone steps--the
door by which Soames had first entered into that evil Aladdin's
cave. Gianapolis went ahead, and Soames, following him, presently
emerged through a low doorway into a concrete-paved apartment,
having walls of Portland stone and a white-washed ceiling. One end
consisted solely of a folding gate, evidently designed to admit the
Gianapolis turned, as Soames stepped up beside him.
"If you will glance back," he said, "you will see exactly where the
door is situated."
Soames did as directed, and suppressed a cry of surprise. Four of
the stone blocks were fictitious--were, in verity, a heavy wooden
door, faced in some way with real, or imitation granite--a door
communicating with the steps of the catacombs.
"Observe!" said Gianapolis.
He closed the door, which opened outward, and there remained
nothing to show the keenest observer--unless he had resorted to
sounding--that these four blocks differed in any way from their
"Ingenious, is it not?" said Gianapolis, genially. "And now, my
dear Soames, observe again!"
He rolled back the folding gates; and beyond was a garage, wherein
stood the big limousine.
"I keep my car here, Soames, for the sake of--convenience! And
now, my dear Soames, when you go out this evening, Said will close
this entrance after you. When you return, which, I understand, you
must do at ten o'clock, you will enter the garage by the side door
yonder, which will not be locked, and you will press the electric
button at the back of the petrol cans here--look! you can see it!--
the inner door will then be opened for you. Step this way."
He passed between the car and the wall of the garage, opened the
door at the left of the entrance gates, and, Soames following, came
out into a narrow lane. For the first time in many days Soames
scented the cleaner air of the upper world, and with it he filled
his lungs gratefully.
Behind him was the garage, before him the high wall of a yard, and,
on his right, for a considerable distance, extended a similar wall;
in the latter case evidently that of a wharf--for beyond it flowed
Proceeding along beside this wall, the two came to the gates of a
warehouse. They passed these, however, and entered a small office.
Crossing the office, they gained the interior of the warehouse,
where chests bearing Chinese labels were stacked in great
"Then this place," began Soames . . .
"Is a ginger warehouse, Soames! There is a very small office
staff, but sufficiently large to cope with the limited business
done--in the import and export of ginger! The firm is known as
Kan-Suh Concessions and imports preserved Chinese ginger from its
own plantations in that province of the Celestial Empire. There is
a small wharf attached, as you may have noted. Oh! it is a going
concern and perfectly respectable!"
Soames looked about him with wide-opened eyes.
"The ginger staff," said Gianapolis, "is not yet arrived. Mr. Ho-
Pin is the manager. The lane, in which the establishment is
situated, communicates with Limehouse Causeway, and, being a cul-
de-sac, is little frequented. Only this one firm has premises
actually opening into it and I have converted the small corner
building at the extremity of the wharf into a garage for my car.
There are no means of communication between the premises of Kan-Suh
Concessions and those of the more important enterprise below--and
I, myself, am not officially associated with the ginger trade. It
is a precaution which we all adopt, however, never to enter or
leave the garage if anyone is in sight." . . .
Soames became conscious of a new security. He set about his duties
that morning with a greater alacrity than usual, valeting one of
the living dead men--a promising young painter whom he chanced to
know by sight--with a return to the old affable manner which had
rendered him so popular during his career as cabin steward.
He felt that he was now part and parcel of Kan-Suh Concessions;
that Kan-Suh Concessions and he were at one. He had yet to learn
that his sense of security was premature, and that his added
knowledge might be an added danger.
When Said brought his lunch into his room, he delivered also a slip
of paper bearing the brief message:
"Go out 6.30--return 10."
Mr. Soames uncorked his daily bottle of Bass almost gaily, and
attacked his lunch with avidity.
THE WORLD ABOVE
The night had set in grayly, and a drizzle of fine rain was
falling. West India Dock Road presented a prospect so uninviting
that it must have damped the spirits of anyone but a cave-dweller.
Soames, buttoned up in a raincoat kindly lent by Mr. Gianapolis,
and of a somewhat refined fit, with a little lagoon of rainwater
forming within the reef of his hat-brim, trudged briskly along.
The necessary ingredients for the manufacture of mud are always
present (if invisible during dry weather) in the streets of East-
end London, and already Soames' neat black boots were liberally
bedaubed with it. But what cared Soames? He inhaled the soot-
laden air rapturously; he was glad to feel the rain beating upon
his face, and took a childish pleasure in ducking his head suddenly
and seeing the little stream of water spouting from his hat-brim.
How healthy they looked, these East-end workers, these Italian
dock-hands, these Jewish tailors, these nondescript, greasy beings
who sometimes saw the sun. Many of them, he knew well, labored in
cellars; but he had learnt that there are cellars and cellars. Ah!
it was glorious, this gray, murky London!
Yet, now that temporarily he was free of it, he realized that there
was that within him which responded to the call of the catacombs;
there was a fascination in the fume-laden air of those underground
passages; there was a charm, a mysterious charm, in the cave of the
golden dragon, in that unforgettable place which he assumed to mark
the center of the labyrinth; in the wicked, black eyes of the
Eurasian. He realized that between the abstraction of silver
spoons and deliberate, organized money-making at the expense of
society, a great chasm yawned; that there may be romance even in
Soames at last felt himself to be a traveler on the highroad to
fortune; he had become almost reconciled to the loss of his bank
balance, to the loss of his place in the upper world. His was the
constitution of a born criminal, and, had he been capable of subtle
self-analysis, he must have known now that fear, and fear only,
hitherto had held him back, had confined him to the ranks of the
amateurs. Well, the plunge was taken.
Deep in such reflections, he trudged along through the rain, scarce
noting where his steps were leading him, for all roads were alike
to-night. His natural inclinations presently dictated a halt at a
brilliantly lighted public house; and, taking off his hat to shake
some of the moisture from it, he replaced it on his head and
entered the saloon lounge.
The place proved to be fairly crowded, principally with local
tradesmen whose forefathers had toiled for Pharaoh; and conveying
his glass of whisky to a marble-topped table in a corner
comparatively secluded, Soames sat down for a consideration of
past, present, and future; an unusual mental exercise. Curiously
enough, he had lost something of his old furtiveness; he no longer
examined, suspiciously, every stranger who approached his
neighborhood; for as the worshipers of old came by the gate of Fear
into the invisible presence of Moloch, so he--of equally untutored
mind--had entered the presence of Mr. King! And no devotee of the
Ammonite god had had greater faith in his potent protection than
Soames had in that of his unseen master. What should a servant of
Mr. King fear from the officers of the law? How puny a thing was
the law in comparison with the director of that secret, powerful,
invulnerable organization whereof to-day he (Soames) formed an
Then, oddly, the old dormant cowardice of the man received a sudden
spurring, and leaped into quickness. An evening paper lay upon the
marble top of the table, and carelessly taking it up, Soames,
hitherto lost in imaginings, was now reminded that for more than a
week he had lain in ignorance of the world's doings. Good Heavens!
how forgetful he had been! It was the nepenthe of the catacombs.
He must make up for lost time and get in touch again with passing
events: especially he must post himself up on the subject of . . .
the murder. . . .
The paper dropped from his hands, and, feeling himself blanch
beneath his artificial tan, Soames, in his old furtive manner,
glanced around the saloon to learn if he were watched. Apparently
no one was taking the slightest notice of him, and, with an
unsteady hand, he raised his glass and drained its contents.
There, at the bottom of the page before him, was the cause of this
sudden panic; a short paragraph conceived as follows:--
REPORTED ARREST OF SOAMES
It is reported that a man answering to the description of Soames,
the butler wanted in connection with the Palace Mansions outrage,
has been arrested in Birmingham. He was found sleeping in an
outhouse belonging to Major Jennings, of Olton, and as he refused
to give any account of himself, was handed over, by the gentleman's
gardener, to the local police. His resemblance to the published
photograph being observed, he was closely questioned, and although
he denies being Luke Soames, he is being held for further inquiry.
Soames laid down the paper, and, walking across to the bar, ordered
a second glass of whisky. With this he returned to the table and
began more calmly to re-read the paragraph. From it he passed to
the other news. He noted that little publicity was given to the
Palace Mansions affair, from which he judged that public interest
in the matter was already growing cold. A short summary appeared
on the front page, and this he eagerly devoured. It read as
PALACE MANSIONS MYSTERY
The police are following up an important clue to the murderer of
Mrs. Vernon, and it is significant in this connection that a man
answering to the description of Soames was apprehended at Olton
(Birmingham) late last night. (See Page 6). The police are very
reticent in regard to the new information which they hold, but it
is evident that at last they are confident of establishing a case.
Mr. Henry Leroux, the famous novelist, in whose flat the mysterious
outrage took place, is suffering from a nervous breakdown, but is
reported to be progressing favorably by Dr. Cumberly, who is
attending him. Dr. Cumberly, it will be remembered, was with Mr.
Leroux, and Mr. John Exel, M. P., at the time that the murder was
discovered. The executors of the late Mr. Horace Vernon are faced
with extraordinary difficulties in administering the will of the
deceased, owing to the tragic coincidence of his wife's murder
within twenty-four hours of his own demise.
Public curiosity respecting the nursing home in Gillingham Street,
with its electric baths and other modern appliances, has by no
means diminished, and groups of curious spectators regularly gather
outside the former establishment of Nurse Proctor, and apparently
derive some form of entertainment from staring at the windows and
questioning the constable on duty. The fact that Mrs. Vernon
undoubtedly came from this establishment on the night of the crime,
and that the proprietors of the nursing home fled immediately,
leaving absolutely no clue behind them, complicates the mystery
which Scotland Yard is engaged in unraveling.
It is generally believed that the woman, Proctor, and her
associates had actually no connection with the crime, and that
realizing that the inquiry might turn in their direction, they
decamped. The obvious inference, of course, is that the nursing
home was conducted on lines which would not bear official scrutiny.
The flight of the butler, Soames, presents a totally different
aspect, and in this direction the police are very active.
Soames searched the remainder of the paper scrupulously, but failed
to find any further reference to the case. The second Scottish
stimulant had served somewhat to restore his failing courage; he
congratulated himself upon taking the only move which could have
saved him from arrest; he perceived that he owed his immunity
entirely to the protective wings of Mr. King. He trembled to think
that his fate might indeed have been that of the man arrested at
Olton; for, without money and without friends, he would have
become, ere this, just such an outcast and natural object of
He noted, as a curious circumstance, that throughout the report
there was no reference to the absence of Mrs. Leroux; therefore--a
primitive reasoner--he assumed that she was back again at Palace
Mansions. He was mentally incapable of fitting Mrs. Leroux into
the secret machine engineered by Mr. King through the visible
agency of Ho-Pin. On the whole, he was disposed to believe that
her several absences--ostensibly on visits to Paris--had nothing to
do with the catacombs of Ho-Pin, but were to be traced to the
amours of the radiant Gianapolis. Taking into consideration his
reception by the Chinaman in the cave of the golden dragon, he
determined, to his own satisfaction, that this had been dictated by
prudence, and by Mr. Gianapolis. In short he believed that the
untimely murder of Mrs. Vernon had threatened to direct attention
to the commercial enterprise of the Greek, and that he, Soames, had
become incorporated in the latter in this accidental fashion. He
believed himself to have been employed in a private intrigue during
the time that he was at Palace Mansions, and counted it a freak of
fate that Mr. Gianapolis' affairs of the pocket had intruded upon
his affairs of the heart.
It was all very confusing, and entirely beyond Soames' mental
capacity to unravel.
He treated himself to a third scotch whisky, and sallied out into
the rain. A brilliantly lighted music hall upon the opposite side
of the road attracted his attention. The novelty of freedom having
worn off, he felt no disposition to spend the remainder of the
evening in the street, for the rain was now falling heavily, but
determined to sample the remainder of the program offered by the
"first house," and presently was reclining in a plush-covered, tip-
up seat in the back row of the stalls.
The program was not of sufficient interest wholly to distract his
mind, and during the performance of a very tragic comedian, Soames
found his thoughts wandering far from the stage. His seat was at
the extreme end of the back row, and, quite unintentionally, he
began to listen to the conversation of two men, who, standing just
inside the entrance door and immediately behind him to the right,
were talking in subdued voices.
"There are thousands of Kings in London," said one . . .
Soames slowly lowered his hands to the chair-arms on either side of
him and clutched them tightly. Every nerve in his body seemed to
be strung up to the ultimate pitch of tensity. He was listening,
now, as a man arraigned might listen for the pronouncement of a
"That's the trouble," replied a second voice; "but you know Max's
ideas on the subject? He has his own way of going to work; but my
idea, Sowerby, is that if we can find the one Mr. Soames--and I am
open to bet he hasn't left London--we shall find the right Mr.
The comedian finished, and the orchestra noisily chorded him off.
Soames, his forehead wet with perspiration, began to turn his head,
inch by inch. The lights in the auditorium were partially lowered,
and he prayed, devoutly, that they would remain so; for now,
glancing out of the corner of his right eye, he saw the speakers.
The taller of the two, a man wearing a glistening brown overall and
rain-drenched tweed cap, was the detective who had been in Leroux's
study and who had ordered him to his room on the night of the
Then commenced for Soames such an ordeal as all his previous life
had not offered him; an ordeal beside which even the interview with
Mr. King sank into insignificance. His one hope was in the cunning
of Said's disguise; but he knew that Scotland Yard men judged
likenesses, not by complexions, which are alterable, not by the
color of the hair, which can be dyed, but by certain features which
are measurable, and which may be memorized because nature has
fashioned them immutable.
What should he do?--What should he do? In the silence:
"No good stopping any longer," came the whispered voice of the
shorter detective; "I have had a good look around the house, and
there is nobody here." . . .
Soames literally held his breath.
"We'll get along down to the Dock Gate," was the almost inaudible
reply; "I am meeting Stringer there at nine o'clock."
Walking softly, the Scotland Yard men passed out of the theater.
THE LIVING DEAD
The night held yet another adventure in store for Soames. His
encounter with the two Scotland Yard men had finally expelled all
thoughts of pleasure from his mind. The upper world, the free
world, was beset with pitfalls; he realized that for the present,
at any rate, there could be no security for him, save in the
catacombs of Ho-Pin. He came out of the music-hall and stood for a
moment just outside the foyer, glancing fearfully up and down the
rain-swept street. Then, resuming the drenched raincoat which he
had taken off in the theater, and turning up its collar about his
ears, he set out to return to the garage adjoining the warehouse of
He had fully another hour of leave if he cared to avail himself of
it, but, whilst every pedestrian assumed, in his eyes, the form of
a detective, whilst every dark corner seemed to conceal an ambush,
whilst every passing instant he anticipated feeling a heavy hand
upon his shoulder, and almost heard the words:--"Luke Soames, I
arrest you" . . . Whilst this was his case, freedom had no joys
No light guided him to the garage door, and he was forced to seek
for the handle by groping along the wall. Presently, his hand came
in contact with it, he turned it--and the way was open before him.
Being far from familiar with the geography of the place, he took
out a box of matches, and struck one to light him to the shelf
above which the bell-push was concealed.
Its feeble light revealed, not only the big limousine near which he
was standing and the usual fixtures of a garage, but, dimly
penetrating beyond into the black places, it also revealed
something else. . . .
The door in the false granite blocks was open!
Soames, who had advanced to seek the bell-push, stopped short. The
match burnt down almost to his fingers, whereupon he blew it out
and carefully crushed it under his foot. A faint reflected light
rendered perceptible the stone steps below. At the top, Soames
stood looking down. Nothing stirred above, below, or around him.
What did it mean? Dimly to his ears came the hooting of some siren
from the river--evidently that of a large vessel. Still he
hesitated; why he did so, he scarce knew, save that he was afraid--
Then, he asked himself what he had to fear, and conjuring up a
mental picture of his white bedroom below, he planted his foot
firmly upon the first step, and from thence, descended to the
bottom, guided by the faint light which shone out from the doorway
But the door proved to be only partly opened, and Soames knocked
deferentially. No response came to his knocking, and he so greatly
ventured as to push the door fully open.
The cave of the golden dragon was empty. Half frightfully, Soames
glanced about the singular apartment, in amid the mountainous
cushions of the leewans, behind the pedestal of the dragon; to the
right and to the left of the doorway wherein he stood.
There was no one there; but the door on the right--the door inlaid
with ebony and green stone, which he had never yet seen open was
open now, widely opened. He glided across the floor, his wet boots
creaking unmusically, and peeped through. He saw a matting-lined
corridor identical with that known as Block A. The door of one
apartment, that on the extreme left, was opened. Sickly fumes were
wafted out to him, and these mingled with the incense-like odor
which characterized the temple of the dragon.
A moment he stood so, then started back, appalled.
An outcry--the outcry of a woman, of a woman whose very soul is
assailed--split the stillness. Not from the passageway before him,
but from somewhere behind him--from the direction of Block A--it
"For God's sake--oh! for God's sake, have mercy! Let me go! . . .
let me go!" Higher, shriller, more fearful and urgent, grew the
voice--"LET ME GO!" . . .
Soames' knees began to tremble beneath him; he clutched at the
black wall for support; then turned, and with unsteady footsteps
crossed to the door communicating with the corridor which contained
his room. It had a lever handle of the Continental pattern, and,
trembling with apprehension that it might prove to be locked,
Soames pressed down this handle.
The door opened . . .
The voice sounded like that of Said. . . .
"Oh! God in Heaven help me! . . . Help!--help!" . . .
"Imsik!" . . .
Footsteps were pattering upon the stone stairs; someone was
descending from the warehouse! The frenzied shrieks of the woman
continued. Soames broke into a cold perspiration; his heart, which
had leaped wildly, seemed now to have changed to a cold stone in
his breast. Just at the entrance to the corridor he stood, frozen
with horror at those cries.
"Ikfil el-bab!" came now, in the voice of Ho-Pin,--and nearer.
"Let me go! . . . only let me go, and I will never breathe a word.
. . . Ah! Ah! Oh! God of mercy! not the needle again! You are
killing me! . . . not the needle!" . . .
Soames staggered on to his own room and literally fell within--as
across the cave of the golden dragon, behind him, SOMEONE--one whom
he did not see but only heard, one whom with all his soul he hoped
had not seen HIM--passed rapidly.
Another shriek, more frightful than any which had preceded it,
struck the trembling man as an arrow might have struck him. He
dropped upon his knees at the side of the bed and thrust his
fingers firmly into his ears. He had never swooned in his life,
and was unfamiliar with the symptoms, but now he experienced a
sensation of overpowering nausea; a blood-red mist floated before
his eyes, and the floor seemed to rock beneath him like the deck of
a ship. . . .
That soul-appalling outcry died away, merged into a sobbing,
moaning sound which defied Soames' efforts to exclude it. . . . He
rose to his feet, feeling physically ill, and turned to close his
door. . . .
They were dragging someone--someone who sighed, shudderingly, and
whose sighs sank to moans, and sometimes rose to sobs,--across the
apartment of the dragon. In a faint, dying voice, the woman spoke
"Not Mr. King! . . . NOT MR. KING! . . . Is there no God in
Heaven! . . . AH! spare me . . . spare" . . .
Soames closed the door and stood propped up against it, striving to
fight down the deathly sickness which assailed him. His clothes
were sticking to his clammy body, and a cold perspiration was
trickling down his forehead and into his eyes. The sensation at
his heart was unlike anything that he had ever known; he thought
that he must be dying.
The awful sounds died away . . . then a muffled disturbance drew
his attention to a sort of square trap which existed high up on one
wall of the room, but which admitted no light, and which hitherto
had never admitted any sound. Now, in the utter darkness, he found
himself listening--listening . . .
He had learnt, during his duties in Block A, that each of the
minute suites was rendered sound-proof in some way, so that what
took place in one would be inaudible to the occupant of the next,
provided that both doors were closed. He perceived, now, that some
precaution hitherto exercised continuously had been omitted to-
night, and that the sounds which he could hear came from the room
next to his own--the room which opened upon the corridor that he
had never entered, and which now he classified, mentally, as Block B.
What did it mean?
Obviously there had been some mishap in the usually smooth conduct
of Ho-Pin's catacombs. There had been a hurried outgoing in
several directions . . . a search?
And by the accident of his returning an hour earlier than he was
expected, he was become a witness of this incident, or of its
dreadful, concluding phases. He had begun to move away from the
door, but now he returned, and stood leaning against it.
That stifling room where roses shed their petals, had been opened
to-night; a chill touched the very center of his being and told him
so. The occupant of that room--the Minotaur of this hideous
labyrinth--was at large to-night, was roaming the passages about
him, was perhaps outside his very door. . . .
Dull moaning sounds reached him through the trap. He realized that
if he had the courage to cross the room, stand upon a chair and
place his ear to the wall, he might be able to detect more of what
was passing in the next apartment. But craven fear held him in its
grip, and in vain he strove to shake it off. Trembling wildly, he
stood with his back to the door, whilst muttered words, and moans,
ever growing fainter, reached him from beyond. A voice, a harsh,
guttural voice--surely not that of Ho-Pin--was audible, above the
For two minutes--three minutes--four minutes--he stood there,
tottering on the brink of insensibility, then . . . a faint sound--
a new sound,--drew his gaze across the room, and up to the corner
Back to Full Books